'Muscles' is one Yankee Marylanders can cheer for


August 09, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

A Baltimorean may loathe rooting for anything sporting the name "Yankee," but for the sake of Maryland horse racing let's hope all cheered on Muscles Yankee yesterday in the Hambletonian at the Meadowlands.

He won as the morning-line even-money favorite in harness racing's version of the Kentucky Derby. Bred and raised at Yankeeland Farms in Frederick, Muscles Yankee is one in a long line of Maryland-bred Standardbreds with "Yankee" in the name.

Charlie Keller, an outfielder with the New York Yankees from 1939 to 1949, founded Yankeeland Farms in the mid-1950s. Nicknamed "King Kong" because of his strength and power-hitting prowess, Keller had grown up on a dairy farm in Middletown.

Keller died in 1990, but his son, Charlie Keller III, said last week that Yankeeland Farms' primary function is selling yearlings. Muscles Yankee, a 3-year-old trotter, is a son of the New Jersey sire Valley Victory and the Yankeeland Farms' broodmare Maiden Yankee. The farm sold Muscles Yankee as a yearling for $200,000. A partnership involving Canadians, Floridians and New Jerseyians owns him.

"We're generally one of the top 10 farms in money earnings by our horses," Keller said. "Yankeeland Farms has a worldwide reputation."

With his Hambletonian victory, Muscles Yankee has seven wins in eight races and an overall record of 11 wins in 15 starts. Other standouts bred by Yankeeland Farms include Fresh Yankee, the first Standardbred to win $1 million, a Horse of the Year and a member of harness racing's Hall of Fame; Smokin Yankee, a 2-year-old trotter of the year, and No No Yankee, a 2-year-old pacer of the year.

Yankeeland Farms is a family business managed now by Charlie Keller's grandsons Chaz (Charlie IV) and Dan Bittle. Dan's brother Brett trains the farm's small racing stable in New Jersey, primarily fillies who are future broodmares.

Trainer Hilton dies

Four months after saddling his 2,500th winner, trainer Robert R. "Bobby" Hilton died July 26 of heart disease and cancer. He was 66.

Although stabled on and off in Maryland, Hilton trained mainly at Charles Town. He trained horses for C. Oliver Goldsmith, including Red Lamp and Turn Capp.

Hilton saddled his first winner, Grayling, in 1955 at the Cumberland Fair.

Hot Wells sidelined

Mike Warren Lasky's Hot Wells has been sidelined with a bowed tendon suffered in the Ohio Derby. His trainer, Tom Amoss, said the gelding would get six to eight months off.

De Francis on task force

Karin De Francis, an owner and senior vice president of Pimlico and Laurel Park, is serving on one of two task forces created by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

One committee is focusing on fan education and customer service. The other committee, De Francis', is working on product enhancement in areas such as simulcasting, wagering products and on-track entertainment.

After attending the group's first meeting July 29 and 30 at Lone HTC Star Park in Texas, De Francis said one result of the task force might be other tracks' adopting Maryland's model of children's clubs and events such as Summerfest.

Eight days ago, Summerfest attracted more than 10,000 racing fans to Laurel Park. About 3,000 were children.

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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